A man walks unannounced into a leasing center. He sits down and halfheartedly flips through a magazine while he impatiently waits for the next available agent. Twenty minutes later, the agent emerges from her back office and leads the man to her desk. She hands him a stack of property brochures—enough to fuel a fire for a week. Oops, a dozen glossy sheets of floor plans spill out of the brochures and fall to the ground. The man and agent both laugh, bend down to pick up the materials, and the agent launches into her well-rehearsed, perfectly-timed apartment property diatribe. Sound familiar? It does if you leased apartments in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Fast forward to 2010. The scene has changed entirely. Today, the same man shows up at 3:50 p.m. for his 4 p.m. appointment. He spends the next 10 minutes poking around on the 42-inch touch-screen monitor in the lobby, checking out real-time unit pricing and availability. At 4 p.m., the leasing agent promptly greets the man with a cup of coffee or bottle of water. She skips the canned property 411 talk. (He already knows every last detail about the property, thanks to the Internet). Off they go on a tour.
No doubt about it, the apartment leasing process has changed dramatically. Technology has revolutionized both the way prospects hunt for apartments and the way on-site staff ultimately seals the deal. As online leasing and call centers become the norm for many multifamily firms, leasing agents and managers are finding their roles changing at warp speed. Here are five ways to re-configure your leasing staff—and leasing office—to meet the needs of today’s renters.
1. Divide up the Labor.
Leasing agents are often considered a jack of all trades—part salesperson, part customer service specialist, part bookkeeper; the list goes on. But a number of multifamily firms say their on-site staff can be most effective if segmented into two distinct, specialized groups: sales and customer service. “We are separating our office so leasing people are on the front lines, spending the bulk of their time creating traffic, touring people, and closing leases,” says Jerry Davis, senior vice president of operations at Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based UDR, which owns 45,913 units nationally. “And then we want customer service people spending the majority of their time dealing with existing customers.”